Direct and Indirect objects in English

An object in English is a part of the predicate of a sentence that receives the action of an action verb. It is something or somebody that the action is acted upon directly or indirectly.

Now, there are two types of objects of a verb in English:

  1. Direct object
  2. Indirect object

What is a direct object?

A direct object is someone or something that receives an action directly. Ask what or whom to the verb to find out the direct object of a sentence.

Examples of direct objects:

  • He kicked the ball so hard.
    Kicked what?
    Direct object = the ball
  • Max threw the phone in anger.
    Threw what?
    Direct object = the phone
  • I love my friends.
    Love whom?
    Direct object = my friends
  • The company is hiring experienced coders.
    Hiring whom?
    Direct object = experienced coders
  • He is cooking fish in the pan.
    Cooking what?
    Direct object = fish
  • We are learning English.
    Learning what?
    Direct object = English

Note: the direct object of a verb can be a clause either.

  • Do you understand what I am saying?
    Understand what?
    Direct object = what I am saying
  • Let’s finish what we started.
    Finish what?
    Direct object = what we started

How to find the direct object in a sentence?

As I told you, ask ‘what’ or ‘whom’ to the verb to find the direct object of a verb. The answer to ‘what’ is always a thing, and the answer to ‘whom’ is always a person.

  • I love my people.
    (Asking whom to the verb gets our direct object. I love whom? The answer (the direct object) is my people.)
  • Sammy loves dark chocolates.
    (Here, asking what to the verb gets our direct object. I love what? The answer (the direct object) is dark chocolates.)

More examples of direct objects in sentences:

  • Jon is writing a script for a movie.
  • He bumped his head into the wall.
  • You should never hit a woman.
  • Most people want a good job.
  • I can’t share my personal details with someone I don’t know well.
  • She loves troubling me.
  • I finally kissed her after several years. It was amazing.
  • Nobody understands what she is going through.
  • We are planning to surprise Jerry on her birthday.

Note: To have a direct object in a sentence, the verb must be transitive. A transitive verb is a verb that takes a direct object. It is acted upon something or somebody.

Some transitive verbs: eat, learn, take, kiss, hit, slap, write, plan, like, love, hate, admire, share, pass, drink, push, move, drive, open, close, cut, wash, fill, etc.

These are some transitive verbs in English. They are generally followed by an object.

  • Love – You can love something or somebody. There has to be an object to love.
  • Eat – You always eat something or somebody. The action of eating has to be acted upon an object. 
  • Hit – Can you simply hit? You hit an object: a person or a thing.
  • Learn – We learn something. We just can’t learn. There has to be something to learn.

Now, opposite to transitive verbs are intransitive verbs. Intransitive verbs don’t have an object.

Some common intransitive verbs: sleep, yawn, laugh, cry, sit, jump, clap, smile, walk, relax, collapse, fall, dance, weep, lean, sigh, etc.

  • Sleep – Can you sleep someone or something? You can’t. You just sleep or sleep on something/somebody.
  • Laugh – You can’t laugh someone or something. You just laugh, maybe at something or somebody.
  • Dance – Can you dance someone or something? No, it can’t have a direct object.

Note: Sometimes, a transitive verb is used intransitively.

Examples:-

  • I won’t eat in front of these people.
  • She can’t cook here.
  • Sometimes, my friends don’t think before doing anything.

All the transitive verbs (eat, cook, think) in these sentences are not followed by an object, which they generally are.

What is an indirect object?

An indirect object is a noun or a pronoun that receives the direct object in a sentence. Asking ‘to whom‘ or ‘for whom‘ gets the indirect object of a sentence.

Note: an indirect object can’t appear in a sentence without having a direct object. An indirect object of a verb sits just next to the verb and just before the direct object.

Indirect object examples:

  • My cousins got me a smartwatch last month.
    Got what? Direct object = a smartwatch
    For whom? Indirect object = me
  • I will buy you whatever you want.
    Buy what? Direct object = whatever you want
    For whom? Indirect object = you
  • The teacher brought us some amazing chocolates.
    Brought what? Direct object = some amazing chocolates
    For whom? Indirect object = us
  • He offered my parents some help when they needed it the most.
    Offered what? Direct object = some help
    For whom? Indirect object = my parents

Direct object and Indirect object examples:

  • He gifted me a book on my last birthday.
  • I will tell you my story soon.
  • My students sent me an emotional message.
  • My father will buy me a bike for my next birthday.
  • I baked Rony her favorite cookies.
  • Monu borrowed me a vintage car.
  • She brought him some homemade sweets.
  • My teacher wrote my parents a long letter.
  • Jon gave the school a million dollars.

The parts that are bold and italic (black) are indirect objects, and the parts that are coloured red are direct objects.

Note: In English, there are some verbs that can have two objects: direct and indirect. These verbs are called ditransitive verbs.

A list of some common ditransitive verbs: Gift, buy, bring, write, send, ask, give, suggest, hand, lend, offer, sing, sell, teach, tell, serve, owe, pass, feed, etc.

How to find the indirect object in a sentence?

To find the indirect object in a sentence, the very first thing we should do is to look for the ditransitive verb. If you have a ditransitive verb in your sentence, the chances of having the indirect object in your sentence are extremely high.

The second thing to do is to ask ‘for whom” or “to whom” to the verb, it will give you the indirect object of the verb.

Let me show you an example!

My students sent me an emotional message.

Here, the verb of the sentence is SENT. Let’s try the trick we just learned to find the indirect object. To whom did my students send an emotional message? Asking this gets us our indirect object: ME.

Gerunds or gerunds phrases as direct objects

A direct object of a verb can be a gerund: a verb ending with ‘ING’ that works as a noun.

Examples of gerunds as direct objects:

  • I love teaching.
    (Love what? Direct object = teaching)
  • I love teaching English.
    (Love what? Direct object = teaching English)
  • Riya enjoys playing with kids.
    (Enjoys what? Direct object = teaching English)
  • Most people hate waking up early.
    (Hate what? Direct object = waking up early)

Click here to learn about gerunds in English!

Infinitives or infinitive phrases as direct objects

Some transitive verbs take an infinitive as their direct objects. An infinitive is a TO + V1 form of a verb that works as a noun in a sentence. It can work as an adjective and an adverb too.

Examples of infinitives as direct objects:

  • She likes to sleep a lot.
    (Likes what? Direct object = to sleep)
  • Jacob want to open a school.
    (Wants what? Direct object = to open a school)
  • We forgot to bring the money.
    (Forgot what? Direct object = to bring the money)
  • She is planning to get married now.
    (Planning what? Direct object = to get married)

Click here to learn about infinitives in English!

Watch my youtube video to master direct and indirect objects in English:

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